Wednesday, January 12, 2011

In the Crosshairs

Thomas Dumm
Amherst College

John Protevi goes a long way toward explaining the absurdity of the demand for billiard ball causality while tracing the influence of rhetoric and propaganda in creating an atmosphere conducive to violence, and how that may have had something to do with the assassination attempt against Congresswoman Giffords. I want to supplement his post by exploring another dimension of the mediated responses to this horror, namely, the Fox News response to the accusation of influence. 
Over the weekend Fox News repeatedly defended Sarah Palin’s cross-hairs imagery, her use of the phrase, “Don’t retreat, re-load,”as aspects of the metaphor used by all participants in American politics. You know, targeting opponents. 
A seemingly chastened Roger Ailes issued a memo to his stable of stars over the weekend, cautioning, “You know, they’re using this thing...apparently there was a map from one of Palin’s things that had her (Congresswoman Giffords) district targeted. So, we looked at the internet and the first thing we found in 2007, the Democrat Party had a targeted map with targets on it for the Palin district. These maps have been used for for years that I know of. I have two pictures of myself with a bull's-eye on my head. This is just bullshit. This goes on... both sides are wrong, but they both do it. I told all of our guys, shut up, tone it down, make your argument intellectually. You don’t have to do it with bombast. I hope the other side does that.” 

Ailes seemed worried that bombast in the face of such a tragic event might backfire. Not so for his troops. 
As his way of “toning things down,” on his Monday edition of The O’Reilly Factor, Bill O’Reilly suggested the following: “The New York Times, MSNBC, Paul Krugman and others, are furious that their far-left vision is falling apart, so they are using a terrible tragedy to attack their perceived political enemies. That is what this is all about, the failure of the far left agenda.” He suggested that President Obama not only call for unity, as he did, earning O’Reilly’s praise, sort of grudgingly, but urged him to go further, and “call out the left-wing thugs.” 
On his January 10th eponymously named program, Glenn Beck dug up a comment that had appeared some time earlier on the Daily Cos – “She is dead to me now,” a reader’s response to Giffords’s refusal to vote for Nancy Polosi for minority leader in the recent House vote – that was scrubbed from the website, attributing it to guilty conscience on the part of its editor. Of course he failed to note that Sarah Palin had done the same thing with her map. He also failed to note that a reader responding to an article by using a common phrase of shunning is not the equivalent of a former Vice-presidential candidate using the images she used as a front page to her website. Beck actually resurrected the map, and mockingly asked “if this map is responsible,” exemplifying Protevi’s billiard ball logic carried to its absurdist conclusion. But he failed to note that Congresswoman Giffords publicly worried about the use of that imagery immediately upon its appearance, and that that hadn’t made Sarah Palin give pause, not one bit. 
But in the main, Beck used his January 10th program to tell a larger tale, trying to reframe the story of the assassination attempt media coverage. He claimed that Loughner couldn’t be pinned down politically. In almost the next breath he noted that Loughner owned copies of both The Communist Manifesto and Mein Kampf (but of course didn’t note that he also had copies of some of Ayn Rand’s work). Beck fitted the entire event into his ongoing narrative about Frances Fox Piven, Van Jones, communists/fascists coming to power by scapegoating conservatives, exploiting existing tragedies to stir chaos and fear, while claiming that none of this narrative is a conspiracy theory, and what is going on in the mainstream media is an attempt to silence or discredit opposition to Obama. “My agenda is the truth,” he said. Fox, he claimed, unlike the rest of the media, did not engage in wild speculation, and a good thing, because Loughner is not a right-wing nut-job, nor a left-wing nut job, but simply a “nut-job.” He suggested that the left always refers to terrorists as individuals, acting on their own, but when it comes to the Right, there must always be the accusation of conspiracy. 
Both Beck and O’Reilly mentioned that they had security details to protect them, because of threats they receive all the time. 
Is there a pattern here? They complain about threats made to them when a Congresswoman who has previously had her offices vandalized, who as recently as the day before her assassin attacked was urging that rhetoric be toned down, when she is laying in a coma, when there are many others dead and wounded. By complaining about being threatened and scapegoated, they remake the story. It no longer is primarily about the killing and wounding, but about themselves as victims, just like Congresswoman Giffords. It is the ultimate in rhetorical jujitsu. Or perhaps it is chutzpah, as in the story of the man who murders his parents and then begs the judge for mercy, noting that he is an orphan. 
My initial response to this attempt to reframe the narrative is that it seems at best to be working at the implausible limits of extreme plausible deniability. But perhaps this move, seemingly an act of desperation, an act transparent to anyone not already among the converted to the Fox narrative of contemporary American political life, can be viewed as an experiment. “How far can we go?” may be the question they are asking themselves. 
 Or, perhaps they are so far down the narrative rabbit hole they have constructed that they believe their storyline, that as Beck put it, “My agenda is the truth.” It is just that the truth is that Frances Fox Piven is responsible, now and always, and Van Jones, and, though he didn’t mention it on this particular program, Woodrow Wilson as well, the evil Democrat founder of progressivism. 
The Terrifying Face of Liberal Fascism 
Frances Fox Piven
Or, perhaps most troubling of all, they know that the power they have at their disposal, an entire network that will endlessly repeat their story line, can turn this lemon into lemonade in the end. If that is so, then we need to think again about new ways to jam the gears of the Fox resonance machine. As Beck says, “My agenda is the truth,” though perhaps he means that in a way slightly different than he explicitly intends. In other words, he has the truth right where he wants it, in the crosshairs, only metaphorically speaking of course. 

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